The Five Levels of Intimacy


Michael Smalley explains the five levels of intimacy. Find out where you and your spouse fall.

The First Level

Here, a couple simply tries to avoid each other and when they do speak, it is usually shallow conversation or exchanging cliches. They say things like:

“How you doing?”?“I’m fine.”?“Please pass the salt.”

At this level, there is little discussion about life or each other.

The Second Level

Here, the couple is sharing basic facts about themselves or life in general. At this point, there is little risk in starting an argument. They say things like:

“It was sure hot today, wasn’t it?”?“Can you believe what the President did today!”

A couple tends to avoid “facts” that could lead to conflict.

The Third Level

Here, the couple is at a greater risk in starting an argument. At this level, they can share their opinions, concerns or expectations.

“You never listen to me.”?“You’re wrong and you know it.”?“If I had known how stubborn you are, we wouldn’t be married.”

It’s at this point that an argument can ensue. If the couple has not learned how to handle arguments at this level, they are at risk for becoming infected with one or all of the four relational “germs.”

The Fourth Level

The fourth level is achieved when a couple feels safe to share their deepest feelings and they treat each other’s feelings as very valuable. When one mate asks the other about his or her concerns, opinions, or an expectation, the one sharing is open, honest and responsible for his or her own feelings. They say things like:

“Tell me if this is right, you feel afraid for our daughter because she is getting her driver’s license.”?“It’s not that you mind me watching TV, it’s that you feel cheated that we don’t spend more time together.”?“I could be way off, but I feel sad when my parents don’t come by and see us like they used to.”

There is an atmosphere of honor, that is, the listener is trying to understand and validate what is being communicated. When we share our feelings, it is a person’s attempt to express his or her deepest needs. Conflicts usually reveal that a person’s feelings and needs are not being understood, validated or fulfilled.

The Fifth Level

Level five is different than previous levels because this is where a person feels safe to share his or her own deepest needs. Safety is of the utmost importance. Also, when a mate shares his or her deepest relational needs, there is a feeling that those needs will be understood and valued. They usually say things like:

“See if this is right. You need some alone time at night after work and it’s not that you don’t want time with me, it’s that you need to recoup?”?“Are you saying you need more tenderness when we talk? Describe tenderness. What does it look like to you?”?“Wait a minute, I don’t understand. Am I getting this right, you’re saying that we need to be saving more each month? What does that mean to you?”

Since feelings reflect whether a person’s needs are being met, a couple can honor each other as they move through the fourth level (feelings) into the fifth level (needs). For example, if a person has a need to be treated with tenderness, one might see expressions of frustration or hurt on the face of the offended person. Honor, at the fifth level of intimacy, would involve asking the offended person to share what is needed. If an environment of safety was established, he or she could express the need for more tenderness. The feelings of hurt, frustration or fear are reflections of a person’s deeper need for tenderness.

In conflicts or arguments, a couple can either move toward deeper intimacy or move toward the four relational “Germs.”

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